the influence of the five

reflectionTamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary – the five.

These five women included in the long list of men in Jesus’ lineage are a source of curiosity and wonder. Curiosity, because somehow their lives were worth mentioning. Wonder, because their stories are far from sanitized. Francine Rivers named her collective interpretation of their stories so well when she titled it A Lineage of Grace. For women who live under coverings of shame, their stories are freeing.

One took justice (unconventionally) into her own hands, one was a sex worker, one left her family and turned her back on her religion, one married her husband’s murderer, one mysteriously conceived, two were foreigners, three got pregnant outside of marriage, three were married more than once … and a whole load of other things!

I love that Francine Rivers doesn’t make their stories sound pretty. They are raw. They aren’t the things of pink and frilly dresses with rainbows and ponies. Their stories challenge women who have hidden under calluses of preservation to peal back the layers, giving God permission to really see them. It is in that moment that God lets his love fall and buys back every part of their story and makes them his. There is a sense of awe and a bit of fear.

The stories speak for themselves – God doesn’t care where you came from, what you look like, what trauma you have faced or what choices you have made. At the same time, he does care. He cares a lot! Because his grace doesn’t erase everything that led to this exact moment. His grace infuses our past, present and future with purpose.

For women that I have the incredible honour of walking beside, I deliver the stories of the five as gifts of hope and courage for greater things. One response was:

“If God can do so much through them, what does he expect me to be able to do?”

That is the influence of the five.

the true beauty of adventure

Walking towards my car after visiting the Medieval Museum in Waterford this past weekend, a friend and I noticed that the rear, passenger side wheel was flat on my car. My mood deflated a little in that moment. Having just had one slow puncture fixed this past week, and not exactly being an expert at changing tyres, I had to consciously gather together handfuls of optimism until I was motivated enough to just get on with it. Thankfully:

  1. I had a spare tyre in the boot that was full
  2. There was a jack and tools there too
  3. I wasn’t alone
  4. It wasn’t raining

An older man in a suit saw us pull the tyre out of the boot and came to ask if he could help in any way. As he started loosening the tyre a couple of younger Wexford men came to join in. Not even asking if we needed help they just took the tools and said they would take care of it for us. One quickly fitted the jack while the other proceeded to remove the tyre and replace it. In under 5 minutes the tyre was replaced, the car returned to the ground and the tools were put away. I just stared in amazement and shook their hands in thanks.

While my tyre was being fixed the following day, we adventured around the area. Mount Congreve was a garden set apart with the pond lilies and hydrangea walk in full bloom, the secret garden with the pagoda set deep in its sunken floor and summer fruit ripe on the trees, just waiting to be tasted. Within view of the Metal Man we joined others in jumping into the choppy sea just before the rain returned. Through a camera lens the feeling and beauty can be captured in part. But I have yet to capture the true beauty of adventure – the friendship, strength and heart of those who invite me to explore this life with them every day.   IMG_8630 IMG_8631IMG_8629 IMG_8633 IMG_8638 IMG_8640 IMG_8642IMG_2004

But fundamentally, life off Earth is in two important respects not at all unworldly: You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy. ~ Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

memories of being loved

Reminiscing on the past year and letting treasured memories live again:

2013-08-04 19.40.08When I told people a few weeks ago that I was headed to a chalet in the mountains for some much needed time alone, I often had a common response: “Alone? Are you sure you want to go alone?” I think back to other times when I have taken days out to spend time, seemingly on my own, and how beneficial they have been in my life. For me being alone didn’t seem like a strange thing but something that I craved every so often. After so many people making comments this time I began to wonder about my own sanity in heading up the mountain to find measures of personal healing and renewal on my own. The reality is that I was never actually heading up on my own. At the very least, I was going with my memory tank full of moments reminding me that I am loved. 

Memories of being loved by others – It would take far too many pages to write all of the small and big things that people have done or said throughout my life that have clearly communicated to me that I am loved to the core. Arriving at the airport in my second European home a couple weeks ago was enough to bring a flood of memories of friends who have loved me through the years regardless of my position in life, what I do, and how I am feeling. It only took a couple of minutes to be reminded that I was loved for me and not for what I could give or do for someone else. If I compiled every other moment of being loved by family and friends I would have drowned in the bliss of it. 

Memories of being loved by God – These are a little more complicated to explain. God relates to every person in a very unique way. As our Creator he knows us and knows how to best love us. We receive and build memories of this love when we humbly, vulnerably, and honestly seek him as our God and Father. The poem, Footprints, has touched the hearts of millions of people because it speaks to personal memories of God walking out daily love. It’s not hypothetical and it’s not just theological. Memories of being loved by God are as real as those of being loved by people (I could go on and on and on about this but I won’t). The Psalmists wrote often about the power of the memories of God’s love. A long standing favourite of mine is in Psalm 13:

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.

Tucked away in the chalet I read the following:

Bonded people are able to tolerate, and to use constructively, time alone. Being alone does not mean they are isolated … bonded people have the love inside them for whomever they are attached to. They have it stored up in their emotional tank, and it multiplies itself through a lifetime. Because they are not afraid of being alone, they can accomplish many things. (Found in Chapter 3 of Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud)

My heart cried out, “Yes! Finally someone gets it!” Time alone is never isolation when you have been loved and have accepted that love. The days that followed were filled with recalling loving memories and participating in making new ones.

First posted on my previous blog in August 2013.

reflections on patrick: in loving memory

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That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven. (3)

Again and again I briefly put before you the words of my confession. I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises. (61)

I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die. (62)

~ St. Patrick’s Confession

As a child I grew up knowing to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or else I would get a pinch. Later the celebrations around me seemed to get more extravagant as McDonald’s began to have mint aero flurries or green milkshakes. The day was associated with leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, and shamrocks. Who really knew what it was about? Later it became associated with everything Irish – Guinness, Riverdance, really bad Irish accents. Somewhere in there was a flicker of curiosity about this Saint that the day was named after. It wasn’t until moving to Dublin though that I began to reflect on the enormity of his contribution to this nation. How could I not wonder? Apart from Christmas and Easter, I am not aware of a national, statutory holiday in Ireland that is in remembrance of one person. Over 1500 years later and we still take a day off in his memory. Half of the world seems to flood into Dublin on Paddy’s Day. They will hardly see anything of Patrick though. You probably won’t even see him in the parade unless someone sneaks him in.

March 17 is the day he is celebrated because it is the anniversary of his death. Remembrance dates are important here. Close family members remember and do symbolic acts on the days of their loved ones deaths. It is an important part of the grieving process. Some will even go to mediums to speak with their passed relatives on that day.

Patrick? He gets a parade, celebrations, and the worst day for vomit on the streets. He isn’t someone to be worshiped but he is someone to be remembered. This country was never the same because he came here. It was completely and radically transformed!

Patrick’s living and dying wish was for God to be seen for who he is by all the people of this world, starting with this island. His last words were for our benefit. Through them we know his story and his motivation. Powerful words.

Thinking of these things challenges me to pursue God like Patrick did – to allow God to live through me like Patrick did. Today I honour his memory by remembering God’s goodness to me. No doubt, doing this will likely affect everyone I meet if I do it with the same sense of awe that Patrick did.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

To read his prayer (St. Patrick’s Breastplate), continue.

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reflections on patrick: a living alternative

Patrick held out to these warrior children (the Irish), in his own person a living alternative. It is possible to be brave – to expect “every day … to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way” – and yet be a man of peace at peace, a man without sword or desire to harm, a man in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away. He was “not afraid of any of these things, because of the promises of heaven; for I have put myself in the hands of God Almighty.” Patrick’s peace was no sham: it issued from his person like a fragrance. And in a damp land where people lived and sleep in close proximity, everyone would have known sooner or later if Patrick’s sleep was brought on by the goddess of intoxication or broken by the goddess of fear. Patrick slept soundly and soberly. ~ How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill

Patrick was far from someone who merely integrated into a culture so as to subdue or convince them of a different god. His faith was real and it was living in him to the point that a spiritual people couldn’t help but sense it all over him. Like Paul before him, he became all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some. He was a living example of what a life lived out in complete humility before the God of the universe would look like while in an adopted home. He struggled with guilt over the sin of his past. His writing suggests that we might classify him these days as having poor self-esteem. He sure wasn’t the charismatic and confident leader we might wish to see. He was, however, focused on the profound and unimaginable greatness of God that transcends cultures and found true peace and true courage. He oozed the presence of the Prince of Peace and Lord of lords.

This is the Patrick who stood alone in the confidence of his Saviour, defying the Druid gods and goddesses in a strikingly similar story to that of Elijah on Mount Carmel. As the Druids looked across from the Hill of Tara to the Hill of Slane where Patrick was they trembled at the thought that Patrick’s fire might burn forever on this island. Patrick defied their gods and goddesses that night. He defied them with his life as he was welcomed into communities after that. He defied fear by going to sleep sober. When others would wake in horror during the night finding that intoxication had only saved them a short while, he slept on. His peace and courage were not lip service to a constructed spiritual being. They were completely transcendent.

This is the Patrick of St. Patrick’s Day. A man who fiercely loved God and fiercely loved the Irish. He committed his life to being a living alternative.

reflections on patrick: a love that grows in fields of fear

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers … I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. (1)

After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time. (16)

It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son. (2)

~ St. Patrick’s Confession, written by Patrick himself

Kings and Druids ruled the forests, mountains and plains of this island. Their very spiritual daily life was rooted in the goddess of fear and the goddess of intoxication. Sold into Ireland as a foreign slave, Patrick was malnourished and under clothed while forcefully introduced to this new culture. Yet, it was in this environment that a young man, who didn’t even know the true God, began to call out to him. God met him as he prayed. He filled Patrick with a growing love when the gods around cultivated fear. So it was that Patrick came to know Ireland and God in the 5th century, before escaping for home.

turn and move forward!

At that river edge (Mark 1) we met each other, each curious as to where we would end up if we followed Jesus as a group. John’s voice cried out to us about repentance and the coming of God.

The word “repentance” brings up reflective images for me: remembering and searching my heart to see the things I have done that hurt others and myself … failing to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbour as myself. At those times my eyes are diverted off of Jesus and onto myself for soul searching. It is often grieving what was lost. It is seeing what could have been if I would have acted in the fullness of love.

John’s message of repentance was essentially forward looking. God is doing a new thing, so we have to get ready! ~ Tom Wright

As we met at the river and Tom (Wright) showed up as an interpreter and guide for us, we saw that repentance did not make people stand still in personal reflection as they closed their eyes. Instead they looked up, saw Jesus, and moved forward. In repentance, we  opened our eyes and saw Jesus. We started to move forward with him, refusing to be distracted by our inner thoughts or the things around us that would delay the journey. We are laying aside the: “Sorry, Jesus. You go on ahead and I’ll catch up with you in a minute.” With the thousands who have gone before us, we move forward with expectancy of the new things that God is doing. We are looking forward. We are walking in repentance. We are excited!!

You are welcome in this place! You are welcome to join this crowd. You don’t have to know exactly why you are here. You don’t have to sign your name on the dotted line. Just walk a ways with the celebratory crowd. IMG_0767

A prayer for Jesus to lead us to the cross: Lead me to the Cross

Over Lent this year I have joined an eclectic group from my church. Together we are making our way through Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone: Mark. These are some of my reflections from our first meeting together on Ash Wednesday, where we also enjoyed honey cake!